Anti-competitive hospital acquisitions and consolidations are leading to a shortage of independent physicians, which is driving up costs and lowering patient satisfaction.
According to a report by the Physicians Advocacy Institute, nearly half of all American doctors are now employed by hospitals and health systems.
18,600 doctors left independent practice in2019 and 2020.
In the same two-year period, hospitals acquired 3,200 physician practices, amounting to an 8percent increase in hospital-owned practices.
This is bad news for consumers worried about healthcare costs, as study after study has shown that when hospitals acquire doctor practices, prices go up.
“When hospitals gain more market power by snapping up doctor practices,” AHIP writes,“they can control referrals and demand higher prices, which in turn makes premiums and costs for everyone even higher.”
The data backs this up.
- Prices for services provided by acquired physicians increase by an average of 14.1%, concluded a study published by the Journal of Health Economics.
- “Vertical relationships can be a way for physicians and hospitals to bundle their services together and charge insurers higher prices,” according to research published by Health Affairs.
- “The average price for a given service was always higher when performed in an outpatient setting. Average prices also tended to grow faster for the same services when performed in outpatient settings compared to office settings,” the Health Care Cost Institute found.
Not only are costs higher, patient satisfaction is lower.
According to another study, “With fewer competitors, it seems there is less incentive to keep patients happy.”
This led the study to conclude that, “If patient welfare doesn’t improve after integration, there may be other reasons why physicians and hospitals are forming closer relationships — perhaps to raise profits.”
Anti-competitive hospital consolidation leads to higher costs and a worse patient experience.
As the consolidation trend shows no signs of closing, regulators need to pay close attention to ensure free-market competition continues to exist in healthcare.